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"Captain Leibstein! There's been an explosion in the engine room!" The voice from the intercom, urgent but not panicked, rose above the wail of the alarm.
"Don't know yet, sir, but we're losing power. We'll have to heave to for a while to check out the damage."
"I'll be right down. Mr. Dawson, come with me."
The Captain and First Officer of the U.S.S. Falcon, the starship recently commissioned to replace the Constellation, made their way to the engine room with a tired resignation. The Falcon was still on her shakedown cruise, and so far practically nothing had gone right.
At first sight, there was very little damage. The engine room crew, to a man - including personnel who would normally have been off duty - was checking out everything, each man doing a check - or back-up check - of the equipment he normally handled, despite the fact that only one component showed any real sign of damage.
"Anyone hurt, Mr. Lun?"
The Chinese Chief Engineer said quietly, "Two men were slightly injured, Captain. I've sent them to sickbay."
Satisfied on that score, Leibstein went on. "What caused it?"
"Difficult to say, sir. This is one of the units that's given us most trouble. It appears that a component here - " he indicated a fused lump of metal - "short circuited. That caused a surge of power to here - " he indicated a shattered piece of metal difficult to identify as machinery - "and it couldn't take the load."
"Any idea what caused the short circuit in the first place?"
"No, sir. I'll get this replaced and run a few tests. That might give us a clue. But seriously, my recommendation now would be that we abandon the cruise, head straight back to Earth and get the whole thing taken out and replaced. They used to speak about Monday morning cars a couple of hundred years ago - vehicles that never ran properly, no matter how much work was done on them. I think this is a Monday morning engine."
Leibstein grunted. "I'll take that as a recommendation, Mr. Lun. Any other damage?"
"Not as far as we can see, Captain."
"Carry on, then. Call me when you're ready to start the tests."
Leibstein turned to leave, the First Officer at his heels, as Lun began to disconnect the fused unit. They had taken only half a dozen steps when the machinery on which the Chief Engineer was working blew in a tremendous explosion.
On the bridge, the Communications Officer stiffened in agony as a surge of power shot through his equipment, electrocuting him before it short-circuited the board. The helmsman screamed once, and slumped, dead. Every officer who was touching equipment died in the vicious surge of power that shot through the Falcon then failed, leaving the ship virtually without power and with most of its officers and all of its engineers except the two in sickbay, dead.
"Captain," Uhura said sharply, "I'm picking up what appears to be a distress signal in old Morse code.
"Morse?" Kirk exclaimed. "That was scrapped years ago."
"I know, sir. This is just the three letters, S.O.S., repeated on an automatic signal. Even if there was more, though, I doubt I would be able to understand more than a fraction of it. We had to learn the old codes at the Academy, but you do forget things you never need to use."
"Yes, I know. Can you pinpoint its position?"
"Give Mr. Sulu the bearing, then. Warp six, Mr. Sulu."
"Warp six, sir."
"Mr. Spock. Are there any other Federation vessels known to be in this area?"
Spock thought for a moment. "The Falcon could be fairly close, Captain. Her shakedown cruise took her from Earth to Braco, returning from there to Starbase Fourteen. She should be in this sector by now."
"And that's the only one?"
"The only Federation vessel, Captain."
"Well, I shouldn't think a Starship would be sending out a Morse S.O.S."
"It is possible that it could be another old sleeper ship, like the Botany Bay," Spock suggested.
"Are there any more of those ships unaccounted for?"
"There was no record of the Botany Bay, if you remember, Captain."
Kirk nodded. "I had forgotten that," he muttered, ever so slightly sheepishly.
"However, the probability is that it is an old ship," Spock continued. "The signal is automatic - most likely the crew is all dead."
"If that is the case... well, the ship is still a hazard to other vessels. Lieutenant Uhura."
"The Falcon should be in the area. See if you can contact her. If she's nearer the signalling vessel than we are, Captain Leibstein can deal with it."
"Aye, sir." She turned back to the communications board. After a few minutes, she said, "I can't raise the Falcon, sir."
Kirk and Spock looked at each other.
"The Falcon?" whispered Kirk. "It isn't possible."
Two anxious hours later they moved into sensor range of the derelict, and discovered that he was wrong.
"Can you raise them yet, Lieutenant?" Kirk asked.
"No, sir. There's just the automatic S.O.S. still being broadcast. If they could hear us, you'd expect them to do something, even if they just cut transmission."
Kirk glanced at Spock, who nodded.
"I fully agree with Miss Uhura," he said. "The conclusion must be made that they have no communications at all, and that whatever happened the survivors have jury-rigged something to transmit the Morse impulses."
"We'll beam over." Kirk flicked on his intercom. "Mr. Scott, Dr. McCoy, meet me in the transporter room immediately. Mr. Sulu, you have the con. Mr. Spock - " He headed for the turbolift, the Vulcan at his heels.
The four men materialised on the bridge of the Falcon. A man in science blue was watching a girl who was working on the wiring behind the communications panel. He swung round with an exclamation as the party materialised, and they saw that he was in the medical department.
The sound made the girl look up from her work. A slanting eyebrow lifted.
"T'Mara," Spock said, obviously surprised. He recovered himself instantly. "This is Captain Kirk, Chief Engineer Scott and Doctor McCoy of the Enterprise." He turned to his crewmates. "Ensign T'Mara is one of the few Vulcan women in Starfleet."
T'Mara nodded a combined acknowledgement and greeting.
"This is Dr. Ericson."
"Where is Captain Leibstein?" Kirk asked.
"Dead," T'Mara replied.
Dead, Kirk thought. Poor Axel. He hasn't lived long enough to captain his first command on active service. "Mr. Dawson?" he continued aloud.
"Also dead. All the command grade officers were killed, Captain. As ranking ensign, I am acting commanding officer."
"You? But Starfleet regulations do not accept women - " It was out before Kirk could stop himself.
Vulcan though she was, she gave what, in a Human, would have been called a rueful smile. "Captain, there was little alternative. Captain Leibstein had a..." Unusually for a Vulcan, she hesitated, appearing to search for the most appropriate word. Finally, she managed, "A chivalry that forbade him to permit women to do anything that might endanger them. He had managed to get most of the women originally assigned to the Falcon replaced. There were no women aboard above the rank of ensign. As a result, it was only men who were checking the equipment when the accident happened, and all the senior ensigns who survive are women. They all looked to me as the most senior. What else could I have done but take command?"
Kirk had liked Leibstein at the Academy, but he could remember him as a male chauvinist who frequently spoke out against having women 'in the male world of exploration', and he mentally applauded the tactful description. "I'm sorry," he said, anxious that she should not classify him as a chauvinist as well. "I didn't mean..." He hesitated, unsure of how to continue, and decided to leave the awkward topic. "What happened?" He changed the subject back to the more important question.
"The engines have been giving trouble since we left Earth. Nothing major, but they did need constant readjustment. Finally, there was an explosion in the engine room. The Captain and Mr. Dawson were checking the damage with Mr. Lun, our Chief Engineer, when there was a second explosion. Everyone in the engine room was killed, and everyone throughout the ship who was handling instruments was electrocuted. Most of the officers were checking their instruments for any damage caused by the first explosion - that's why the death rate was so high. Secondary life support systems are working - barely. I managed to jury-rig the communications board to transmit a pulsed distress call - you picked it up?"
Kirk nodded. "How many casualties?"
"A hundred and six dead, another eighty three injured, some of them severely," Ericson answered. "There's very little I can do for them, bar sedation, at the moment. I came to ask Miss T'Mara if there was any chance of getting more power."
"Very little," T'Mara replied. "But I'm not an engineer. Mr. Scott may be able to help. Meanwhile, Captain Kirk, as acting commander of the Falcon, I must ask you if it is possible for our injured to be transferred to the Enterprise."
"I was about to suggest it. Bones, arrange it with Dr. Ericson."
"Right, Jim." The two medical officers went out through the jammed-open bridge door that led to the emergency stairs.
"What condition are the engines in?" Scott asked.
"In my opinion, unrepairable," T'Mara answered. "Also I consider that there is at least a seventy nine point eight percent chance of another serious explosion within the next sixteen and a half hours. I could be wrong - as I said, I am not an engineer."
"I'd like a look at the engine room," Scott said.
"Of course, Mr. Scott." T'Mara started towards the emergency exit.
Kirk said seriously, "I think we should transfer all but a skeleton crew to the Enterprise as soon as possible. It'll make us a bit crowded, but under the circumstances it might be best."
The engine room door was also jammed open, and bore all the signs of having been forced. Not until he saw it did Kirk realise fully just how complete the loss of power was.
Inside was a shambles. Kirk and Spock looked at each other and then back at the twisted wreckage, Kirk trying not to register the dark bloodstains that covered everything and the bodies trapped under chunks of metal too heavy to lift. Scott looked round, acute pain on his face at the ruin of all this beautiful machinery.
"You're right, Ensign. These engines'll never work again," he said sadly.
He moved over to what had been a main control board, clambering awkwardly over an unidentifiable component that barred his way, looked up at a dial that - impossibly - was still giving a reading, frowned at the figures and tried to move a switch. "It's all fused solid. Anything I try will just precipitate any trouble that's a brewing."
"You agree there could be another explosion?" Kirk asked.
"Well, Captain, everything's fused at 'on'," Scott said. He pointed to the dial. "The power is still being produced but it can't get anywhere. It'll build up for a while, then - " He shrugged. "That reading's a lot higher than it should be."
"I think the sooner we begin to transfer the Falcon's crew, the better, Captain. Now that I have seen the damage, I believe Miss T'Mara's estimate to be a generous one. An explosion, soon, does appear likely."
Kirk nodded. "I agree," he said. "Mr. Spock, beam over as soon as all the injured are transferred. Arrange for the distribution of the Falcon's crew among ours. Tell Lt. Uhura to notify Starfleet with the details of what we are doing. If the Falcon doesn't explode, we'll take her in tow to Starbase Fourteen. Scotty, there's nothing you can do here; you go too. I'll stay and help Miss T'Mara organise the evacuation from this end."
Spock hesitated for a split second before replying. "Yes, Captain."
"You sound doubtful, Mr. Spock?"
"You are more important than I, Captain. Would it not be better if I remained with Ensign T'Mara?"
"In case of accidents? No, Spock. Beam over."
They decided that it would be simpler if the Falcon's crew was beamed aboard the Enterprise from sickbay, since the transporter was already locked onto the sickbay for the transfer of the injured - even although many of them, the less seriously hurt, had actually been in their own quarters - sickbay had never been designed to deal with so many casualties at once. A disaster of this magnitude was - or had been - unthinkable. Undoubtedly Starfleet's best scientists and engineers would spend many sleepless nights trying to discover just what had gone wrong...
This transfer is going to take some time, Kirk reflected uneasily. However, no-one showed any sign of panic, and mentally Kirk awarded T'Mara full marks for her handling of the crisis.
Most of the remaining crew were assembled in the main rec room. T'Mara had spoken to them there, making no secret of the imminence of another explosion, but she had also pointed out that everyone would be clear long before the estimated time of its occurrence. And although she used exactly the same logical arguments that he knew Spock would have done, somehow she had put a touch of humour into her information that kept anyone from reacting with the irritation Spock sometimes engendered. For a fleeting moment, Kirk wondered if it was due to the emotional stability of being a full-blooded Vulcan...
For the most part, all he had to do was stand by in silent support as the crew filed past en route to sickbay. One young crewman hesitated at the stair leading to the living quarters, looking more than a little uncertain, and Kirk moved instantly to his side.
"You wanted something, Ensign?"
"Can't we go and get our things, sir?"
"I'm sorry, Ensign. Look at it this way - you can replace your clothes, but not your life."
The young ensign still hesitated uncertainly, and one of the others stopped as well. "It's not his clothes he wants, Captain. He's from Dorutha, and his pet rachat is in his quarters."
Dorutha was a colony world, settled by Humans over a century previously. The first gift a Doruthan ever received was a rachat; an intelligent little animal that formed an almost symbiotic relationship with its master - a relationship deeper than any other a Doruthan was ever likely to encounter. It was not unknown for a betrothed couple to split up because their rachats reacted adversely to the proposed union.
Rachats usually lived as long as their Human partners and did not survive them; Kirk could imagine what it would be like for the young Human to lose his rachat under these circumstances. He looked at the second man. "You his room-mate?"
"Yes, sir. "
"Go with him. Make sure he doesn't take any unnecessary chances." He looked at the ensign. "Five minutes."
"Yes, sir!" The youngster took off down the steps at a run, his friend close behind him.
Kirk let the file move on, and waited.
It took a little longer than the five minutes, but Kirk had expected that. He had not reached the impatient stage when the two ensigns reappeared, the younger one now wearing a fold-over jacket. A small, pointed, furry head showed in the V.
As the three men headed along the corridor, the young ensign said, "Thank you, sir."
Slowly the waiting queue grew shorter. Kirk began to feel bored. Maybe he should have let Spock stay after all.
Suddenly remembering something important, he turned to T'Mara.
"I'll go up to the bridge, see if I can retrieve the Log," he said. "It mightn't be possible, with the power failure, but we should try for it. There might be information in it from the computers that could give a clue to the fault."
A slight expression of annoyance flickered over the Vulcan's face for an instant, and Kirk realised she was annoyed at herself for forgetting about the Log. "It is my duty, as acting captain," she said.
Kirk shook his head. "Your duty is to make sure your crew get to safety," he said. "I'll be as quick as I can."
He was half way to the bridge when the ship shook to another explosion. He was flung to the floor, then picked himself up and carried on.
There was no need to bother about how much damage he did in retrieving the small buoy that carried the Log ready to be jettisoned in a ship's final moments; only this buoy couldn't be jettisoned, for there was no power available to operate the eject mechanism. He had to get open the panel that sheltered it - and that panel also was fused shut. He looked round for something to use as a lever.
It was many minutes before the panel yielded and he retrieved the buoy. Sucking a bruised finger, he carried it triumphantly down the stair back towards Sickbay.
The ship shook again, but only slightly - clearly a much smaller explosion this time. A faint smell reached his nostrils and he sniffed.
The ship was on fire. How many were there still to be transported? It was lucky that fire hadn't broken out earlier. At least most of the crew were safe now. A thin wisp of smoke curled along the corridor as he reached the sickbay door.
Inside, he found only T'Mara and a dozen men. Even as he entered, six of them shimmered away. The Doruthan - last in the queue - smiled shyly at him, and the rachat's whiskers twitched as if it, too, was acknowledging him.
"I was beginning to wonder if you were all right, Captain," T'Mara admitted.
"I'd to break the panel open," Kirk explained. He glanced at the six men who were still waiting. "These are the last?" He knew that they were, but something in him demanded confirmation.
"If there is anyone else they haven't reported in," T'Mara said. "I couldn't get an accurate count because several men went over with the injured to act as stretcher bearers, and no-one could tell me how many went. Perhaps we should take time to make a final check of the ship - "
"Too late," Kirk said. "We're on fire. It would be suicide to try."
The last six men began to fade, solidified again, fluctuated two or three times then vanished. They looked at each other. What was wrong with the transporter?
Kirk's communicator bleeped.
"Spock, Captain. A component in the transporter has failed. Your transport will be delayed until it can be replaced."
"Was the last lot of men all right?"
"Yes, though it was touch and go."
T'Mara touched his arm, and pointed towards the door. Through it, they could see smoke beginning to fill the corridor. A wisp curled into the room.
"How long will Scotty be repairing the transporter?"
"Only a few minutes, Captain."
"You'd better have McCoy standing by when we beam over. We're on fire and the fumes are getting to us." He coughed as the acrid smoke caught at his throat.
"Can you obtain life support units?"
"Negative. It's getting hard to breath in here - in the corridor, we wouldn't last ten seconds."
"Mr. Scott says five minutes yet, Captain."
"That's too long," T'Mara put in quietly. "I estimate we will lose consciousness within two."
"I've sent for McCoy. But ... • His voice trailed off uncharacteristically.
T'Mara looked at Kirk. "Captain," she said. "You and I do not know each other, but we both know Spock. He thinks of us both as his friends. Can you trust me?"
"I'd trust any Vulcan," Kirk replied, mystified.
She leaned towards the communicator. "Spock. I'm going to try Mar'n'a. Be ready for us."
She looked back at Kirk. "It is a special trance," she explained. "I meld my mind to yours, and put us both into a very deep trance. In that condition, we have a better chance of surviving."
"Carry on," Kirk said.
Aboard the Enterprise, Scott was working furiously.
"Can I assist you?" Spock asked.
"No, we'd just get in each other's way."
McCoy came in then, looking a little annoyed. "What's the emergency?" he asked. "Ericson and I are still trying to get the injured men settled and treated."
"The Captain will need you," Spock replied evenly. "The Falcon is on fire, and there is a delay in beaming the Captain and Miss T'Mara over. They will be suffering from smoke inhalation, if nothing worse."
"Try it now, Mr. Spock." Scotty straightened with a grunt.
Spock set the transporter controls, operated it. The two inert bodies materialised, Kirk with his arms round the buoy containing the Log. Spock strode over to watch McCoy giving them quick injections. Then he applied a mind meld to T'Mara. The girl took only a few moments to open her eyes and sit up.
"I lost him at the third level," she said.
Spock immediately turned to Kirk, his hand reaching for Kirk's face. McCoy looked at T'Mara, puzzled, but instinctively deciding not to disturb Spock.
"What goes on?'" he asked.
"Mar'n'a," she replied. "A special trance, so deep that we cannot come out of it ourselves. A third person must be present to draw us back to consciousness. Normally it is only done when all participants know each other well, and Captain Kirk and I are strangers to each other. I thought that perhaps Spock knew your Captain well enough to compensate for the fact that I do not. However, I lost contact with the Captain at a very deep level. Spock is trying to reach him now. If he cannot, Captain Kirk will eventually die."
Spock drew back. "I cannot quite reach him," he said. He looked round. "Doctor. If you will permit me to join my mind to yours, I can perhaps use your Human affection for the Captain to reach him."
McCoy didn't hesitate. "Go ahead, Spock."
Spock reached for his face. McCoy felt the tendrils of Spock's mind curling round his consciousness. "Imagine the Captain is at the bottom of a deep hole," Spock said. "You are trying to reach down to him. "
Spock turned his attention back to Kirk. McCoy could feel nothing, but he obeyed Spock, straining his mind to imagine the hole, straining an imaginary hand down to reach an invisible one. He felt a hand on his shoulder - T'Mara, and knew she was helping him.
Nothing happened for what seemed a long time. Then Spock relaxed slightly.
"I have him," he said.
A few moments later, Kirk's eyes opened. He looked round.
"We made it," he said.
"Barely," Spock replied.
Kirk looked over at T'Mara. "Thank you," he said.
"It's Spock you should thank," she answered.
"I could have done nothing without Dr. McCoy," Spock said quietly. McCoy felt the faintest of pressures on his mind, then a sense of withdrawal... and a momentary feeling of utter loneliness.
"Come on, Jim," he said. "Miss T'Mara too. Down to Sickbay. I want to check you both out."
Later, satisfied that the Falcon's crew was settled in and his own crew as happy with the arrangements as possible, Kirk headed for the recreation room. As he entered, he saw Spock with T'Mara, playing chess. He went over to them, trying not to feel hurt - just a little; aware that it was logical for Spock to seek the company of another Vulcan, particularly one who had told Kirk she was a friend. They looked up as he joined them. T'Mara rose.
"Would you like to take my place, Captain?"
"No, Ensign, finish your game," Kirk said, foolishly pleased that she should think to make such an offer, hoping neither of them realised it.
He watched them for a while. Spock appeared to be winning. McCoy came in, and joined them.
"Everything all right, Bones?"
"Everyone's settled," McCoy replied.
Spock won the game. T'Mara rose again. "Will you have a game now, Captain?"
"You don't want to try for revenge?" Kirk asked.
She shook her head. "I'm not very interested in playing chess," she said. "I prefer to watch."
Kirk took her place as Spock began to set out the men. Out of pure curiosity Kirk asked, "How well do you two know each other?"
For a moment the Vulcans each seemed to be waiting for the other to answer. Then Spock said, "Quite well, Captain. T'Mara is my cousin."